Burley have a record of finding unusual subjects for their pantomimes but, to judge by this production, Humpty Dumpty should be expanded to a full-length panto more often. It is the best sort of village pantomime, with some accomplished performances, lots of local references and constant interaction with the audience. It also has an exceptionally good script by Paul Reakes, a professional pantomime-writer (no, I didn’t know such a thing existed, either), onto which the local references are grafted. The script is full of good jokes and the comic rhyming couplets in which Jinxit (Sue Trotter) and the Good Fairy (the appropriately named Wanda Williams) conduct their verbal battles are a delight. There is just the right degree of vulgarity, with some excellent double entendres that will amuse the adults while passing (one hopes) over the children’s heads.
I did wonder how eight lines of nursery rhyme would be extended to two hours. The trick is to make the hero of the title into a baddie, or at least a thoroughly nasty youth, under the influence of super-baddie Jinxit. The Good Fairy imprisons him in an egg, but when it is broken, both Humpty and chaos are let loose until love brings about reformation and a happy ending.
The star of any panto is the dame, but I am tempted to say that in this case it is Patsy Putumup’s outrageous eyelashes that steal the show. Behind those eyelashes, Tim Gaskell puts in a sterling performance with just the right mixture of knowingness and innocent enjoyment. In the title role, Sharon Street calls on all her considerable comedic gifts, but is in danger of being typecast as a wayward youth, having played a similar part in last year’s Pied Piper of Hamelin. There is a first-class performance from Bernie Guy as the King; rarely does an amateur actor appear so comfortable on the stage.
Vicky Freer is the principal boy in appropriate tights and even manages a traditional slap of the thigh. She combines well with Katy Perriman as Princess Penelope, who looks suitably pretty and sings sweetly. The equivalent of the brokers’ men are Private Spit (Richard Pratt) and Private Polish (Simon Newns), who provide some good knockabout comedy, although they should remember that if you choose to put on a funny voice, you risk losing some clarity of diction.
‘All the King’s horses’ are here represented by just one horse, but what a horse! Horace the horse’s cavortings are one of the highlights of the show and full credit especially to whoever spends the evening bent double as the hind legs: one out of Deborah Nightingale and Sandy Simpson (who also directs, with Mary Turner). They show great skills, even negotiating steps, although the audience loved Horace even more when a pair of pale hands emerged from his front legs to grab the banister!
The small adult chorus work like Trojans and the children’s chorus are charming. As always, it is fun to spot the children who really live their parts, reacting to everything that happens, and those to whom Noël Coward’s song about not putting your daughter (or son) on the stage, Mrs Worthington, applies. Also working hard are accompanists Sonia Foulds and Graeme Thew. Musical director Debbie Clay took the sensible decision to use only a verse or so from each of a lot of well-known songs, from the Beach Boys to Village People: it is not that they are badly sung – far from it – but they don’t interfere with the story too much.
It all makes for a thoroughly enjoyable show. Catch it if you can on Friday 1 February at 7.30pm or Saturday 2 February at 2.00pm or 7.30pm.